Which makes it even more surprising when, while channel surfing late at night a few weeks ago, I became enamored by reruns of the television hit, Extreme Makeovers: Home Edition (not to be confused with the Extreme Makers – plastic surgery, wedding, or weight loss editions!). Despite being a confessed mechanical moron, I am deeply impressed with those people who have wonderful mechanical skills and know how remodel homes, exterior and interior. Perhaps a tad more than “impressed.” Okay, I am downright envious on them!
With those remodeling masters from Extreme Makeovers fresh in my thinking, this challenging piece of dialogue from Noah benShea’s clever book Jacob’s Journey came to mind:
“All of us are magicians,” said Jacob. “With great skill we shift who we are as if we were peas under walnut shells. Soon, we ourselves have no idea where we are hidden. Soon, pride in our camouflage causes us to become caught in our own slight of hand.”
“Well,” said the young man, “at least I’m not old like my grandfather. He sits with his chin resting on his cane, doing nothing for hours. I have my whole life ahead of me.”
“You do have your whole life in front of you,’ said Jacob, “and yet life is an experience not only of breadth, but of depth. As you grow older, the game of life goes inside, making room for memory. The interior life is no less real, and in some ways more private, more ‘yours.’”
“But,” said the young man, “what do you think my grandfather spends so much time thinking about?”
“Maybe he is thinking about you.”
“Yes,” said Jacob. “Maybe he’s worried that his grandson is living only on the surface of life, and he wonders when you’ll come inside.”
Spirituality is bi-directional. Most certainly, spirituality looks ‘up’ to our God, but authentic spirituality invites – no, demands – we journey within, to the inside, and consider the possibility of doing some divine remodeling. SELAH (stop and think about it).
Glad to be your (transitional) pastor. DON
A majestic cathedral in Northern Europe was known for its magnificent organ. Unlike the electric organs of today, these organs depended on a man who would pump by hand the air needed for the organ to produce its great sound.
A guest organist was scheduled to play for the 4 PM recital featuring the works of Mozart and Mendelssohn. The brilliant guest organist bowed before the crowd and said, “For my first selection I will play a piece by Mozart.” He sat at the organ and began to press the keys but absolutely no sound came out. He attempted a second time; but again, to no avail. This time, very aggravated, he said loudly, “For my first selection I will play a piece by Mozart.” He returned to the keyboard, but still no sound. Suddenly he heard a voice from behind the organ, “If you don’t say ‘we,’ I ain’t gonna pump!” The organist smiled and said, “For OUR first selection WE will play a piece from Mozart.” The great music was heard by all.
The church of Jesus Christ always plays it best music when we realize “we” and not “I.” Perhaps this is why Jesus put a table – the Lord’s Table – at the center of our faith.
But it’s true: we need each other! It not only takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to grow a strong faith community. Parker Palmer, one of my favorite authors, understands the importance of community, saying: “Whether we know it or not, like it or not, honor it or not, we are embedded in community. Whether we think of ourselves as biological creatures or spiritual beings or both, the truth remains: we were created in and for a complex ecology of relatedness, and without it we wither and die. This simple fact has critical implications: community is not a goal to be achieved but a gift to be received.” (Parker, Thirteen Ways of Looking at Community, 1998).
How do you like that…void of community – God’s special gift – we die! It eludes us eternally. Not only does community maintain life, it is also the source of our healing: physical, emotional, and spiritual. I think of the Lakota people and their practice of the “inner circle” (“hocokah”) comes to mind. Originally formed around the elders of the community, this practice promoted healing, change, and intense communal support. As psychiatrist Lewis Mehl-Madrona describes the practice, “We can make community, create community art, create community ceremony and dance and ritual and music for our healing, even if faced with the lack of blueprints for how to do this. We can dance. We can keep rhythm. No other primate from capuchin monkeys to non-human apes can keep rhythm. This is uniquely human, and we must use it to our full advantage to entrain ourselves to coherence with each other for maximal healing and transformation (Mehl-Madrona, Healing the Mind through the Power of Story, 2010).”
If I am hearing the good doctor correctly, he is telling us we need each other – and to just do it! Don’t worry about doing it “correctly,” just be and stay in community! I am so very thankful for our tribe, sometimes called the First Christian Church, as we worship, work, and play together. Truly, a genuine and authentic gift of community! As St. Paul reminded the faith community in Philippi, “I thank God upon every remembrance of you.” As always, I look forward to dancing and being in community with you on Sunday. Glad to be your (transitional) pastor.
Chasing Rabbits....Resusitating An Iguana 5.1.18
“Now that I look back on it," she says now, "it was a pretty ugly animal to be kissing, but the last thing I wanted to do was tell this little boy that his iguana had died." The lizard responded to her efforts and is expected to make a full recovery.
Now that story may not impress you, but it impresses me. I salute Officer Tori Matthews. Despite loving all things reptilian, the line for me is drawn at mouth-to-mouth action with an iguana! But I commend Officer Matthews for her heroic and compassionate act. Well done, Officer Matthews, well done. She went beyond the call of duty. I salute you.
Okay, yes, it’s a funny story and the humor could go on ad infinitum. But what I found particularly impressive about Officer Matthews’ unusual actions is the compassion she demonstrated toward that young boy. He was heartbroken over the seeming death of his beloved pet iguana. His world came crashing down on him because of the unfortunate events that had transpired that day. For a young boy – perhaps just a tender eight or nine-year-old lad – you just never know when tragedy will strike and it will be the last day in the life of your beloved iguana’s life! No doubt the youngster was traumatized, devastated by what was happening. Officer Matthews was having none of it; she sprang into action, forfeited her sense of hygiene, took a risk – and it worked. She saved the day!
It’s the same type of compassion witnessed the other day on a Detroit freeway. Eight truckers positioned their 18-wheeler rigs side-by-side under an overpass bridge when they received word came from the police about a man who was about to complete suicide by jumping off the bridge. They tied up freeway traffic in both directions for hours as the man was coaxed off the bridge by police.
According to Jesus, compassion is a central attribute characterizing faithful Christian living. I have been re-reading Marcus Borg’s book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Borg’s classic (if you are a progressive) changed my life over 20 years ago when it was first published. On the subject of compassion, Borg reminds us that Jesus refers to God as a “womb.” In fact, the origins of the word “compassion” in both the Hebrew and Aramaic languages of scripture is related to the word womb. Matthew the gospel writer tells us to be “compassionate as God is compassionate.” Thus, according to Borg, to be compassionate is to be womb-like. God is womb-like, Jesus says, therefore, you (we) are to be womb-like.
What does it mean to be womb-like? Borg says that it means to be life-giving and nourishing. It means to feel what a mother feels for the children of her womb: tenderness, overseeing their well-being, finding her children precious and beautiful. But it can also mean fierceness and being protective. We’re talking Mama Bear protectiveness, here! This is especially true when her cubs are threatened or exploited in any way. So to be compassionate, as God is, finds its roots in social justice, challenging exploitative ethics and systems of domination.
One of the greatest joys I have every week is to look out from the pulpit and see a congregation of compassionate people. Whether its feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless, keep children from sleeping on the floor, giving voice to the voiceless, or a multitude of other compassionate acts, First Christian Church-Morehead understands what compassion, womb-likeness, is all about! I am honored to be part of FCC’s compassionate movement as your (transitional) pastor. Shalom,